Photo by Andrea Marie Tan
Photo by Andrea Marie Tan

Recently, a poster was posted around campus regarding the UBC Hangar and its dress code outlining, through pictures, what is deemed acceptable, and what is not permitted within the Hangar gym and the fitness classes held by campus recreation.

Understandably, there has been uproar over the dress code, with a recent UBCO Confessions Facebook post about the poster garnering 24 angry reactions, 5 shocked reactions, and approx. 35 comments, many outlining anger and disgust.

Crystal Westgate, the Customer Service Coordinator at UBCO Recreation Services spoke in regards to the uproar about the policy. According to Westgate, the policy has been a mandate of The Hangar since its opening and has been enforced every year, with the only change this year being the advertisement. Within their mandate, it is stated that members of the gym wearing attire that is too revealing will be asked to leave to create a safe, and welcoming environment for all. As fashion trends evolve, recreation staff are finding that clothing is getting less appropriate for their dress code, and some further advertising was necessary.

The purpose of the dress code is mainly to ensure that first time users will feel comfortable walking into the Hangar without having to worry about potentially being uncomfortable with what someone else is wearing. According to Westage, there is also the aspect of cleanliness, which is backed by existing research which states that more clothing equals less germs.

Photo by Andrea Marie Tan
Photo by Andrea Marie Tan

Layne McDougall, Campus Recreation Manager, claims: “everything that went into the design and opening of The Hangar has been to execute a welcoming, inclusive, and holistic fitness environment.”.

In a sense, The Hangar has done the best they can within their parameters. Their policy is gender neutral, not incredibly restrictive, and stems from research. But dress codes have a problematic reality about them: they contribute to a culture of body shaming that tells individuals of all genders that their bodies need to be covered up in certain contexts and spaces. Inherently, dress codes restrict freedom of expression and perpetuate objectification and sexualization of bodies. This leads us to question: Why does revealing gym attire make others uncomfortable? Is it because our society places sexual emphasis on body parts like butts, chests, nipples, and stomachs? Is it because we tend to only be shown specific bodies in the media (skinny, white, abled)? Is it because we feel that we also must reveal skin if others are, and consequently worry that we don’t measure up in comparison to others?

We need to examine the deeper cultural undercurrents of a space only being welcoming if its members are covered up. If a gym user is uncomfortable seeing skin, perhaps our efforts should go towards a culture where the abdomens, chests, and legs of all individuals are no longer deemed inappropriate simply because we can see them.

Unfortunately, despite the Hangars best attempts at creating an inclusive space, they cannot avoid the reality of what dress codes signify. Their attempts at an inclusive space come at the cost of real inclusivity where body shaming isn’t a reality. Hopefully, their space can evolve into one where everyone is welcome regardless of how they dress.